East German Local Elections Sweep Out Communist Past, Reinforce Coalition : Democracy: The balloting is seen as a litmus test as the government moves toward unification with the West.
East Germans swept away the last cobwebs of communism Sunday in local elections that reinforced the strength of the country’s new democracy as it speeds toward reunification with West Germany.
An estimated 80% of 12.2 million voters returned to the polling booths for the second time in seven weeks, casting ballots in much the same pattern as they did for Parliament on March 18.
It is a scene being repeated throughout Eastern Europe as the feverish revolutions of last autumn come full circle in a springtime ripe with both hope and fear.
Six months after the Berlin Wall cracked open, Eastern Europeans are now electing new mayors, town councils and other municipal leaders--turning out the last of the hard-line Communists who dictated their everyday lives.
In East Germany, special interests ranging from disco dancers and diabetics to firefighters and feminists were represented on poster-sized ballots for 119,652 posts in about 7,800 cities, villages and districts.
“It is the second important test of democracy in this country,” said Prime Minister Lothar de Maiziere, whose conservative Christian Democrats once again appeared to be dominating the vote, with early returns giving them 33%.
The Social Democrats, junior partner in the East Berlin coalition, showed 21%, and the Communists, now called the Party of Democratic Socialism, 13%.
The election was seen as a litmus test for De Maiziere’s grand coalition as the East German government continues negotiations with Bonn over conditions for reunification.
Both sides have agreed on July 2 as the target date for social, economic and currency union.
Liberals, including the Social Democrats, have complained that the pace of reunification is too swift.
They contend that haste could lead to widespread unemployment and skyrocketing prices if East Germans forfeit all the subsidies and social cushions they have relied on for 40 years.
Conservatives favor a quick wedding, saying West German help is the surest way to repair an economy wrecked by decades of Communist corruption and mismanagement.
Reunification issues--particularly replacement of East Germany’s weak ostmark with the powerful West German deutschemark--clearly overshadowed the latest election.
Agreement was reached just last week on a 1-for-1 exchange rate for wages, pensions, rent and small savings, with a 2-to-1 rate for almost everything else.
“The money issue is on everyone’s mind,” said Gabriele Loennig, a 44-year-old railroad worker in the tiny village of Eutzsch, an hour’s drive from Berlin.
“For me, the tempo of reunification is just too fast,” she said. “It’s too much to grasp. I feel like I’m standing on the sidelines watching everything rush past me.”
The farming village reflects some of the “political fatigue” that sociologists, pollsters and East Germans themselves report since the heady days of last fall.
The Communist mayor of Eutzsch, Irene Kass, is running unopposed for reelection.
“No one else wants the job,” she said. “The work is too hard these days and the future is too uncertain.”
Campaigning this time was lackluster and low-key compared to the spirited battles less than two months ago, and lines outside ice cream stands and beer gardens Sunday rivaled those outside polling stations.
The local elections seek to erase the last vestiges of Stalinism and lay the groundwork for important reforms.
In the past, local Communist kingpins had the power to decide where people would live, work and study. They choreographed elaborate spy networks at even the neighborhood level.
Even after the revolution, the remnants of the Communist monopoly remained in some cities.
Communist city leaders, for example, have been accused recently of hiring former members of the dismantled secret police for teaching jobs in primary schools.
The elections also promise more direction for towns and districts that ousted their Communist leaderships during the revolution and have relied on caretaker governments since then.
“Many cities were left with no real government,” said Annette Reczek, a 19-year-old student walking through a Potsdam park with two West Berlin friends she met the night the Berlin Wall came down.
“There’s very little interest in the elections themselves,” she said. “We’re all just waiting until July 2.”